Distraction: Automakers push back
NHTSA will mull responses on proposed guidelines
Strickland: Limited oversight
WASHINGTON -- Major automakers are pushing back against the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration's voluntary guidelines on distracted driving, arguing that the proposals are too restrictive and don't cover handheld devices.
In comments submitted May 18, the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers urged federal regulators to reconsider recommendations that ask automakers to "lock out" certain functions or limit use of moving maps and photographic images while a vehicle is moving.
The alliance, which represents 12 automakers, also wants more flexibility on how much text is safe to display or type in while a driver is on the road. Right now, the feds' proposed guidelines restrict text entry to six button presses and messages to 30 characters.
Some features, such as displaying an album's artwork rather than its title, for example, can help reduce distraction, an alliance spokesman said. "It's not just an icon," he said. "It's communicating a thought quicker than the written word."
If the alliance prevails, the industry will have more leeway in what it can deem safe for consumers without government interference.
NHTSA, the auto industry's top safety regulator, issued its proposed guidelines in February as part of Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood's campaign to combat distracted driving.
The public, including industry stakeholders, had until May 18 to comment before the guidelines are finalized.
The guidelines cover vehicle equipment only -- not handheld phones -- and recommend that automakers disable certain apps, such as Facebook, Twitter and Internet browsers, unless a car is pulled over. Voice operation of those features isn't addressed but will be later.
The proposed guidelines also offer a framework for what's safe to display or operate manually while driving.
In its comments, the alliance asked NHTSA to clarify how it intends to monitor automakers' efforts to abide by the guidelines -- a move the trade group says conflicts with NHTSA's commitment to keep compliance voluntary.
The federal guidelines also are broader and more stringent than those developed by the alliance in 2002-03, even though the percentage of crashes attributed to distracted driving remains small, the group says. The alliance would like to see the guidelines better aligned with its own.
Additionally, the alliance has urged NHTSA to take a firmer stance on handheld phones and use the guidelines to encourage drivers to connect them to the vehicle's interface.
NHTSA Administrator David Strickland has said the agency does not have clear authority to do so -- it regulates only vehicle equipment -- but he has asked Congress for the regulatory oversight. In a statement, NHTSA said it will consider the alliance's comments as it works toward final guidelines.